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Barnes & Noble turns to restaurants as a main customer draw

The Barnes & Noble book chain plans to test four expanded in-store restaurants, each featuring bar options and service at all three dayparts, in anticipation of turning its branches into dining destinations surrounded by shelves of books.

The experiment flips the bookseller’s current approach to foodservice. Instead of outfitting stores with cafes as an amenity for browsers, the struggling retailer plans to position restaurants as the main draw for consumers who might end up buying a book or magazine.

The new cafes will be double the size of Barnes & Noble’s current in-store cafe and will feature beer, wine and full meals throughout the day, executives told the financial community. Table service will be provided, and the company said it has already hired an executive chef to create the menus.

The first location is set to open north of New York City and sport amenities like a fire pit and bocce ball court. The other three stores will open in Minnesota, California and Virginia.

“People increasingly are looking for that third place to gather and be part of a community,” Chief Executive Officer Ron Boire said during a conference call with analysts. “This all plays into our strength as a place where people can learn and grow and be part of a community.”

The new venture comes as the chain is trying to pull out of a sales slump that led to additional store closings in 2015 and a slowdown in expansion.

Jaime Carey, president of Barnes & Noble’s development and restaurant group, told Fortune magazine that the company will add more expanded cafes or incorporate them into existing stores with available space if the test concepts do well. 

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